Blacks less eager for housing integration Equal opportunity is more important


It was on a ball field at Patterson Park that William Warfield and Moses Jackson Jr. began their unlikely friendship.

Unlikely because Bill Warfield, 34, and Moe Jackson, 31, both Baltimoreans, live in different worlds.

Mr. Warfield, a rigger at a Bethesda naval research center, lives in a nearly all-white neighborhood south of the park in East Baltimore. Mr. Jackson, a forklift operator at a Hampden bottling plant, resides in an almost all-black area off Frankford Avenue in Northeast Baltimore.

Now, five years after they met, the two men coach their 13-year-old sons' team, the Yankees, in the Highlandtown Exchange Club league, and Mr. Warfield says, pointing to Moe Jackson, "I'm 34 years old; I've met a lot of people; and here's my best friend right here."

Yet, except for the nights when young Shawn Jackson spends the night at friend Nolan Warfield's house or vice versa, the families return to virtually segregated neighborhoods when the games are over.

Baltimore area whites and blacks have learned to work and even play with each other, but they rarely live together in stable,

integrated neighborhoods.

"It is the keystone of my faith in the future that we will someday achieve a thoroughly integrated society," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1965.

More than a quarter-century later, that society is hard to visualize.

And the ideal of integrated living now ranks low among the priorities of many civil rights and neighborhood activists.

They are more concerned with jobs, families, schools, crime, low-cost housing and what Dr. King called "the powerlessness of the oppressed people who inhabit our slums and ghettos."

"I'm not sure integration is what we're looking for. What we're looking for is equal opportunity and open housing," said George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"I want to see everything my money can afford. Let me make the choice where to live. Most blacks choose to live around people they identify with," said Mr. Buntin, who lives in a predominantly black inner-city neighborhood.

Among the arguments made by some blacks against integration are that it dilutes black voting strength, erodes black identity and robs poor city neighborhoods of potential leaders.

Gary Rodwell, lead organizer of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and a resident of the integrated Ednor Gardens area near Memorial Stadium, said many blacks are ambivalent about integration now because "segregation was a double-edged sword."

Segregation was a cruel symbol of inequality, Mr. Rodwell said, TC but it also created stable black neighborhoods with vibrant local economies, where "young kids growing up could see the work ethic. There was hope that there was a way out."

"Integration provided the opportunity to live in 'better surroundings,' but it also contributed to the disintegration of our communities," Mr. Rodwell said. "The achievement of separate but equal in some ways could certainly bear as much fruit as integration. But to this point it hasn't taken place. Usually separate means unequal."

Martin A. Dyer, associate director for fair housing of Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., still believes that integrated living can help create a race-blind society. He lives in Windsor Hills, a neighborhood on the city's western border that has striven to remain integrated.

"Segregation tends to be most concentrated among people who don't live that way by choice. They can't afford to live anywhere except in ghettos where only blacks live," Mr. Dyer said.

"Segregated neighborhoods breed the worst kinds of social and economic problems, including a we-they mentality, blacks against whites, whites against blacks," he said. "Integrated living is the only way that people become aware that they share much more in common than they don't."

What is an "integrated" neighborhood in a city that is nearly 60 percent black? Perhaps the most workable definition is a neighborhood that attracts white and black homebuyers in healthy numbers.

By that definition, Windsor Hills, a woodsy, mostly black neighborhood of rambling, turn-of-the-century houses mixed with modest Cape Cods, is integrated.

The key to Windsor Hills' integration, Mr. Dyer and other residents say, is that some white residents chose to stay when the neighborhood was becoming increasingly black -- and that they encouraged white friends to buy houses there.

"Many blacks are disturbed by the idea of looking specifically for a certain racial group to move in," Mr. Dyer said. "I happen to believe the only way integration is maintained is if that kind of control is exercised."

William Obriecht, a Baltimore County advocate of integration from Woodlawn, said promoting racial balance is "touchy" because "everybody knows that what you're saying is that you can't have too many blacks. The next question is, what's wrong with an all-black community?"

Mr. Obriecht's answer: Nothing is wrong with it, but "integrated neighborhoods better serve the total goal of our country to have people work together in harmony."

Belair-Edison, a community of sturdy row houses and cottages around Herring Run Park in Northeast Baltimore, has adopted maintaining integration as a goal. The community underwent rapid racial change in the 1980s and is now about 40 percent black.

Ellen Given, 27, a white homeowner, heads the recently formed Community Insight Committee. The group aims to spread the word that Belair-Edison is an attractive, affordable neighborhood for whites and blacks alike to raise families.

"It's not an openly racial type of thing; it's very quiet and subtle. But I've noticed a change in attitude" in Belair-Edison, Mrs. Given said. "Young black families are very excited about Belair-Edison. It has a wonderful reputation. But white families perceive it as unstable. They're not sure how it's going to change and think maybe they shouldn't buy here. There are a lot of unfounded fears."

Tonoa Foster-Freeman, 28, a black homeowner and committee member, said her white neighbors seemed pleasantly surprised

to see a black family carefully maintain its home.

"We don't put a color to it," Ms. Foster-Freeman said. "If it becomes predominantly black and goes downhill, that will faze us."

Tracy Durkin, director of the Belair-Edison Housing Service, said maintaining a high level of homeownership helps preserve a neighborhood. To that end, the housing service and St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center run a program to buy neighborhood houses, fix them up and resell them to first-time homebuyers. That keeps properties out of the hands of absentee landlords.

Ms. Durkin conceded that maintaining integration is difficult, but she said: "If any neighborhood can do it, Belair-Edison can.

It's a really beautiful neighborhood where you can buy a house for $50,000-$55,000. It's a real hidden jewel."

In the suburbs, Columbia, 20 percent black, stands out as a rare example of stable racial integration.

The most common explanation is that developer James W. Rouse planned the city that way in the 1960s -- a radical idea at the time -- and its reputation for integration stuck.

But Columbia has been less successful in achieving economic integration. Low-income residents make up only 5 percent of the population, said John Brandenburg, president of the Columbia Housing Corporation, which develops low-cost housing.

"When you look at economics, there's no difference between black and white," said Mr. Buntin of the NAACP. "You don't see too many poor folks in Columbia, even though they've made token efforts to provide [subsidized] housing. There's more tokenism than other areas, but it's still tokenism."

On the ball field at Patterson Park, Bill Warfield and Moe Jackson have mixed feelings about the willingness of whites and blacks to live together in Baltimore.

Mr. Warfield noted many white residents' bitter feelings toward blacks after black teen-agers clubbed a Hispanic man into a coma this spring in the park. Mr. Jackson recalled whites' chasing a black man into the path of a car on Eastern Avenue last year simply because he was walking with a white woman.

"Baltimore is a fairly backward town," Mr. Warfield said. "People would rather not change if they can help it. I think we're regressing."

But Mr. Jackson said he and his wife attended the Little League's annual dance in the heart of Highlandtown this spring and had a fine time.

"We fit right in," he said. "Next year I'm going to DJ the music."

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